Friday, 14 August 2009


Warning: triggering material

The film discussion on another post reminded me of the film "Disgrace", which I saw recently. The movie is based on the novel of the same name by South African writer JM Coetzee which won the Booker prize a few years ago. The film addresses the topic of rape: there is the rape of the student by the Professor/protagonist Lurie (because this is what it is, is it not, even though reviews refer to it as "seduction"). There is also the rape of the Lurie's daughter Lucy, who lives on a remote South African farm, by three young men.

As the review from the Sydney Morning Herald puts it:

The aftermath of this catastrophe forms the moral kernel of the film. Father and daughter react very differently. His first instinct is a desire for revenge but it's complicated by her silences. For once in his life, his intellect is no help to him. He can't work out what she's thinking and she won't tell him. Then at last, he begins to realise the sacrifices she is willing to make and they appal him.
For those who have read the book or seen the film, I would be very interested to know how you reacted to the ending in particular as I found it absolutely awful and am still not sure what to think.


Anna said...

I read the book recently, and I absolutely didn't know what to make of it - I actually found it quite unnerving. (I'm glad you wrote about it - I've been wanting to discuss it with someone!)

The story is told through the eyes of the father, and the rape is treated almost as if it's an affront to him, as the father of the victim, rather than an act of violence against his daughter.

It's also a metaphor for the violent conception/birth of South African society, of course.

Has anyone else read it?

Danielle said...

I've read the book and found the 'white woman sexually sacrificed in revenge for apartheid' symbolism pretty disturbing.

Placebogirl said...

I read the book and found it massively depressing--there is no real character growth on the part of the father, and animals in a shelter are used as a symbol of the disposability of life which, in combination with the rapes, meant this book pushed all my misery buttons. I think I will probably avoid the film.

ms poinsettia said...

I read the book a few years ago and remember just loathing the father, starting with the line early on where he says something along the lines that it is a young woman duty to share her beauty (to the student he's busily taking advantage of). I don't remember the ending particularly well but I remember thinking Coetzee was extraordinarily talented to be able to write an enthralling novel with sucha despicable lead character.

However, then I tracked down some more of his novels, like Elizabeth Costello and Diary of a Bad Year (which I didn't finish), which had similar sentiments in certain scenes/characters and was just too icked out by the presentation of female characters to read further.

Julie said...

I started to write that I haven't read Disgrace but then I started to remember that maybe I have. Hmmm. Did it have a picture of a dog on the cover? I don't remember the story at all.

Anyway, I have definitely read another Coetzee book, Waiting for the Barbarians. We had to read it for 7th form english. I found the rape in it basically impossible to get past.

George said...

Julie, it had a picture of a dog on the cover, so that's the one.

The book had the advantage of allowing us to watch as Lurie very slowly (awfully) came to start to realise (although not properly), his guilt and complicity, his participation in a rape culture.

In the film, his guilt is apparent from the start, and there is no ambiguity in his character. Lucy presents a more interesting character, and she comes to the forefront - but we still see her with David's eyes, as he forces his power onto her and refuses to allow her to be her own woman.

I do think the book is good, despite the heavy subject matter, and the author's refusal to tell us to condemn David - instead leaving us to come to that conclusion ourselves.

One thing I'm not sure is whether the rape of Lucy is read as the redemption/sacrifice to the disgrace. I don't think there's an invitation to do so(?), but it's pretty clear that David comes to that realisation, in the same way that so many men don't think about sexual violence until they are affected by it occurring to someone close to them.